Shrinking budgets are a fact of life for meeting professionals. In fact, they expect their meeting budgets to shrink by an average of 10 percent for 2010 vs. 2008, according to a May 2009 survey of 516 planners conducted by Ypartnership for the Professional Convention Management Association, the PCMA Education Foundation and American Express.
To help you trim your own event costs, M&C asked peers to share their penny-pinching ways. Following is a roundup of some tried-and-true trimming tactics for different meeting elements.
1. Hire local. Janice Petrelli, owner of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based event planning company Perfect Planning, makes it a point to cultivate freelance contacts around the country, and when possible uses workers who live within driving distance of the event. "This saves on airfare as well as hotel rooms," she notes.
2. Negotiate staff rates. "In our hotel agreements, we negotiate for staff rooms to be 25 percent off our group rate," says Jennifer Collins, CMP, president and owner of The Event Planning Group, based in Washington, D.C. "Given that staff remain in their rooms the least, we believe this is a reasonable request." For meals, Collins makes sure staff are included in food and beverage guarantees.
3. Enlist students. Terry O'Brien, a Chicago-based regional vice president for site-selection and meeting procurement firm Hospitality Performance Network, recommends hiring college students who require low (or no) wages and can count the experience working on your event as an internship. And at hospitality schools, students seeking careers in meeting planning or the hotel business usually are eager to help out on a volunteer basis or for a very modest fee. For more details, see "Calling All Volunteers."
4. Hire temps. Marianna Zaparyniuk, global special-events support manager for Dallas-based cosmetics company Mary Kay, says temporary workers can pack and distribute registration packets at events or check name badges or tickets at the doors. One temp agency with nationwide reach is Elite Staffing (800-423-5595; elitestaffinginc.com).
5. Work with DMOs. A number of destination marketing organizations (destinationmarketing.org) offer free staff assistance as a value-added measure. For example, the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau in Covington, Ky., provides free staffers based on a group's total room night usage.
6. Get your money's worth. According to Shannon Hamm, director of sales for New Orleans-based Hotard Coaches, "Since most companies require a minimum amount of money to charter a bus -- usually equal to the cost of a five-hour charter -- I recommend that planners get the maximum use out of their motor coaches for that period by staggering the beginning and ending times of meetings and seminars at the event, which allows for fewer buses to be used for continuous shuttles, as opposed to transferring all the attendees at the same time."
7. Time the travel. "You should be able to cut costs on airport transfers by knowing exactly when your attendees are arriving," says Elise Kert, owner of Del Mar, Calif.-based meeting and event planning firm Corporate Meeting Concepts. This is because grouping arrivals together allows planners to use less equipment and staff. Kert notes that most attendees will not mind waiting at the airport an extra five or 10 minutes for transportation.
8. Track the changes. John Stachnik, DMCP, general manager of On The Scene, a Chicago destination management company, recommends that planners using a DMC for ground transportation keep close watch for any passenger flight itinerary changes, and contact the DMC immediately if such occur. "If you cancel a car early enough," says Stachnik, "you might avoid cancellation penalties."
9. Ask for flat fees. "I try to negotiate a flat fee per person, regardless of whether attendees will be in a motor coach, limo or minibus," says Kate McCaw, director of meetings and incentives for Summerville, S.C.-based Patriot Meetings and Management. "It's very difficult to project ground fees until everyone's air is booked, and it's a nightmare trying to budget without that information."
10. Go with an owner. McCaw adds, "It's smart to look for a ground transportation company that owns its vehicles, rather than leases them." Those that lease tend to mark up rates.
11. Let the bidding begin. "If a larger need for ground transportation exists, send an RFP through the local CVB," advises Dian Ginsberg, CMM, CMP, manager of events for the Tampa, Fla.-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International. "I like to indicate key factors in the decision-making process, such as pricing, availability, condition of vehicles, etc." But most importantly, Ginsberg makes it clear that companies are bidding against each other, which encourages the suppliers to submit their best possible pricing.
A/V AND EQUIPMENT
12. Schedule smart. Ann Chitwood, co-owner of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based event planning firm LilyGild, reduces costs by working with clients on the most efficient scheduling of presenters. "Many times," she says, "those in charge of the agenda have not put much thought into the different needs of speakers. In some cases, just by shuffling room assignments, we have been able to eliminate days of A/V setups."
13. Stay in front. Bill Wulff, CMP, president of Fort Lee, N.J.-based Above the Rim Events, believes planners should not be married to a rear-screen projection setup. Says Wulff, "Front-screen projection with digital light processing systems allows for an amazing image with reduced staging costs." With a suspended front screen, there's no need to rent pipe and drape for the wings, as the screen can go right up against the ballroom or facility wall.
14. Go solo on screens. "For a large meeting where I normally would use two screens and projectors, I'm using one of each," says Annette Zarriello, CMP, CMM, meeting planner for the Durham, N.C., branch of Blue Cross Blue Shield. This saves money -- and helps keeps the speaker more focused on the audience.
15. Compare estimates. Midori Connolly, owner of the San Diego A/V production and staging company Pulse Staging and Events, says to ask potential meeting venues for estimated A/V rigging and power charges. "We have helped clients save thousands of dollars by comparing rates from venues," she says.
16. Use lights strategically. Jimmy Callahan, president and CEO of Boston-based production company JCALPRO, says, "Static lights, such as Lekos, can be used with a rotator and colored gels to give a similar look to a moving light -- but for less money."
17. Go for gobos. Callahan also recommends using textured or custom gobos (patterned light filters) to dress up the space without having to purchase banners or spend more on eye-catching décor elements.